Baroness Warsi’s hard-hitting resignation letter to David Cameron has served to focus attention on the UK’s policy on the carnage in Gaza.
The former Foreign Office minister says her resignation was prompted by the government’s “morally indefensible” policy – one of arming the Israelis, while pressuring the Palestinian Authority not to seek justice through the International Criminal Court.
Despite the Prime Minister’s dubious expressions of sympathy for the people of Gaza, a more one-sided UK policy could scarcely be imagined.
Since Lady Warsi’s resignation, both Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Business Secretary Vince Cable have come out publicly for a suspension of licensing of arms and other military equipment for Israel. It is time for more politicians to take a principled stand against the killings and destruction in Gaza and Israel, and for the UK government to condemn actions that potentially constitute war crimes and human rights abuses.
A government commitment to review such arms exports is welcome, but extremely belated and limited.
The bigger question, of course, is what on earth was the UK doing in issuing such licences in the first place, given Israel’s terrible track record in using weapons indiscriminately in earlier conflicts in Gaza?
Spain has already suspended its arms transfers to Israel. Downing Street should follow suit by announcing immediate suspension of all arms to Israel, while ratcheting up pressure on Hamas’ rocket suppliers to cut off that supply.
The UK government has said many times that it is a strong supporter of international justice and the International Criminal Court. It should stop making an exception to this policy when it comes to Palestinians and Israelis.
Rather than standing foursquare behind the rule of international law in the region, the UK government has opposed the Palestinian Authority joining the ICC. Indeed, the government went so far in 2012 as to say that the UK’s recognition of Palestine’s statehood depended on it agreeing not to join the international court. That looks like bullying, not diplomacy.
Justice in the region is the key to peace in the region, and to addressing some of the apparently intractable problems faced by both Israelis and Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority’s membership of the ICC would mean the court could investigate people suspected of committing war crimes or crimes against humanity in or from that territory, including launching attacks into Israel. The court could prosecute war crimes, such as targeting attacks on civilians both in Israel and in Palestinian territory. For the first time there would be a real possibility of accountability for Israeli and Palestinian civilians.
With the UK now assuming the monthly presidency of the UN Security Council, the government should back calls for the Security Council to refer the calamitous situation in Gaza and Israel to the International Criminal Court and use its role to press for a global arms embargo on Israel and Hamas.
The government should pay due heed to Baroness Warsi’s reasons for resigning. If it does, then the UK can finally help wage peace rather than war in Gaza.
A version of this article appeared in the News Letter, 9 August 2014.
I am the Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK and an occasional human rights blogger at Amnesty Blogs: Belfast & Beyond.
I’m on Twitter at @PatrickCorrigan